Some of the greatest influencers in our lives tend to be parents and teachers. For others, it may be a friend, colleague or spiritual mentor. They are valued because they are trusted, inspire change and walk the talk. In school districts today, the influencers are the superintendents, along with their district leaders. Their role is no longer solely about the instructional decisions they make, it’s actually about their ability to build leaders who lead in the schools. These ‘learning leaders’ (Lyman, 2016) are the role models and champions for spearheading interactions and leading conversations on student learning in every aspect of their work—no exceptions. They lead as a united team with strong collaboration and mutual trust.
So why is this so difficult for our Board of Education, who supervises the superintendent, and district leaders to ‘walk the talk’ in the Stamford Public Schools?
The BOE has been controlled by one party for at least 10-years…including the presidency, narrative and votes. Prior to that time period (when the ratio was five Democrats and four Republicans), BOE leadership was better balanced and issues were much more transparent. Because federal policies are deeply embedded in K-12 work, group decision-making has become complicated and tension-bound. Walk the talk means putting democracy and transparency back into all facets of BOE decision-making and student learning goals, data, programs and progress!
Being an urban district, it is clear many issues have been allowed to exist in the SPS. This has generated lots of frustration and mistrust amongst teachers and families. The only way to move forward is to implement BOE policy with fidelity. The district learning leader roles are to translate policy and rebuild trust. Here are two examples:
Policy 2001-Participatory Management. This policy is about collaboration between district administrators and teachers. Along with Votes of No Confidence last year, the Stamford Education Association survey administered this month, highlighted again that even more teachers were less confident about central office follow through. It is evident, SPS district leaders need to manage with fidelity. They need to model the change they want to happen.
Policy 5117.2-Admission to Magnet Schools. Stamford’s seven magnet schools offer educational choices to parents through innovative programs of theme-based instruction. Although this policy was revised in 2018, SPS still allows teachers professional courtesy over taxpayers who may have applied through the lottery system. Rather than deal with the root of the policy, fidelity, again, is being overlooked. This can be solved by creating a tuition program for all full-time employees (Town of Greenwich uses this system for educators and city employees) or simply eliminating professional courtesy (Darien Public Schools). In building a united educational community, walking the talk may mean focusing on how to solve the issue at a deeper level.
Although the CMSi curriculum audit was helpful, what central office is not saying is how they are going to hold principals and teachers directly accountable—many district and building administrators have not taught in classrooms for years and central office has ignored conducting consistent principal evaluations over a ten-year period. How will skill development, rigor and engagement be monitored quarterly across all grades? How will this be communicated to the public? Central office leaders believe they can manage this even though achievement has declined over a ten-year period, especially in reading and mathematics. How can we as the taxpayer be assured that they are going to be successful?
Vision 2025 has been the only option shared. Sadly, other options have not been publicized. Unlike other surrounding districts who maintained updated curriculums, Stamford central office leaders were allowed to let this responsibility lapse. Because of this, district learning leaders believe they need yet another administrative position to oversee curriculum implementation. Since teaching matters most in directly improving student learning, the new CAO position (Chief Academic Officer) will be a key role in leading conversations on student learning as well as modeling this vision for teachers in the classrooms. Hopefully, walk the talk means central office will hold the highest levels of accountability. We can and should be a high performing district!
Democracy, policy and communication matter when building a world class district. Our BOE and central office learning leaders are intrinsically involved in this change process. Most important, their actions must match their words and expectations they have for each other, schools and students. It’s time to move forward…teachers, families and taxpayers are ready to meet excellence!
Dr. Rebecca Hamman
Hamman currently serves as Policy Chair for the Stamford Board of Education. Her comments are her own, and do not represent the official views of the Board of Education or its committees.